Does My Business Need a Mobile Website or a Mobile App
Access to websites from mobile devices continues to increase at an alarming pace.
At Envision, the websites we host get, on average, about 30% of their traffic from mobile devices of one kind or another – and we have some sites that get over 50% of their user traffic from mobile! This is where industry analysts predict all websites will be within the next few years, getting more than half their traffic from mobile devices. As such, many of the conversations we are having these days center on the need to support this increasingly mobile-centric world. When we have these conversations, one of the first questions we are often asked is whether a mobile app or a mobile website is the right choice for a business.
Both mobile websites and mobile apps have their strengths and weaknesses. I use a pretty straightforward method to determine which of these is right for a company’s particular needs – I start by determining what those needs are.
Reasons to Use a Mobile App
One of the strengths of mobile apps is that they can tap into native phone functionality – such as the camera or address book. If you absolutely need direct access to those features, then a mobile app is likely the right choice for you. Mobile apps are also attractive because they can be placed directly on the homescreen of a user’s device, allowing for one-tap access to your content. That is very cool and it is often the main reason why people tell us they want to have an app – they like that ease of access for their users.
The downside to mobile apps is that they can be expensive to create, especially if you hope to support users with iPhones, Android devices, Windows phones, Blackberry devices, etc. Each of these different platforms requires a different app to be developed, so the cost of creating this content goes up as you strive to support a wider audience. There are frameworks available today that make this development process easier than it has been in the past, but you are still developing multiple apps for multiple platforms – apps that you will also need to keep updated over time as software changes.
Reasons to Use a Mobile Website
If your main goal is to make your website content available to users on a wide range of devices and you do not need access to native phone features, then a mobile website is probably the right direction for you. Unlike mobile apps that need to be developed uniquely for each platform, all those previously mentioned platforms include web browsers with them. By creating a website that is optimized for the small screen sizes of mobile devices, you can develop your content once and support a much wider range of users.
In fact, if you develop your website using a “responsive web design” approach, where your one website is built to respond to different devices and screen sizes and present a layout optimized for each, then you are achieving real efficiency in your online content publishing! With this responsive method, you have one website to manage and maintain and that site’s responsive layout will support large desktop computers, mobile smartphones, and the myriad of devices that fall between these two extremes. When increasing the reach of your online content is your main goal, this is by far the best way to achieve it.
Reasons to Do Both
The decision on whether you need a mobile website or a mobile app does not need to be an exclusive one. You may actually benefit from both and if your company has the resources to develop and support a mobile website and a mobile app, then this may be the way to go. Since many mobile apps access web content, you will likely want to start with a mobile website first and make sure your web presence is optimized for the widest range of devices possible. Once you have that set, development of a mobile app, if there is a strong business case for it, could be the next phase of your mobile-support plans.
Either way, the first step is to identify what your goals are – or speak to a company like Envision that can help steer you in the right direction. You also need to be realistic about what you need. Mobile apps are sexy, but if you don’t have the resources to develop one properly and you won’t really benefit from what a mobile app versus a mobile website will offer, then you may already have the answer to whether you need a mobile website or a mobile app.
Yes, this is a very simplified look at what is really a multi-layered decision. There are many other considerations you should take into account when deciding on whether to develop a mobile app, a mobile website, or both - further reason to contact a company that specializes in this type of development as a logical first step in your decision making process. Still, the general questions posed in this article should give you a springboard to begin the process and do some intital brainstorming on what direction you think may be a fit for your business needs.
Below you will find a handy flowchart that we have created to help you further visualize this "mobile website versus mobile app" decision.